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Archive for June, 2011

The chaos of a currency collapse

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Last month Belarus witnessed the effects of a collapsed currency when the Government cut the rouble’s value against the US dollar by almost half. Previously 3155 roubles would buy a dollar but in the blink of an eye they decided 4930 would be needed. This was not even the reality because perception of the collapsing currency meant the situation was even worse as people scrambled for foreign exchange on the black market where you needed at least 6000 roubles to buy a dollar.

So what sparked this crisis?

President Lukashenko had promised to raise public sector wages by a third during his election campaign, which he duly carried out. This was sustainable only because of the support Belarus received from Moscow in terms of loans. However, as fears grew about the country’s finances, support from Russia waned and even near neighbours from the EU didn’t fancy the risk thus sparking a sharp drop in confidence in the currency.
To exacerbate the problem there was a shortage of foreign exchange currencies, dollars or euros, in the country.

The consequences of a collapse

Shelves quickly emptied of food and any "tangible asset" that would hold value better than their currency

Wide spread panic broke out as the economy effectively became paralyzed and people suddenly realised their currency was of diminishing worth. Shops were quickly emptied of everything that could be bought. Everyday food was snapped up at “luxury” style prices as people thought of survival but also they also bought electric goods like toasters, microwaves, canned goods and virtually anything that was for sale as they rushed to convert their currency into “any tangible assets” that were not losing value as quickly as their roubles.
The empty shelves throughout the towns seemed eerily reminiscent of the Soviet controlled days.
Shoppers knew that anything they could purchase could be more useful as a form of barter than the diminishing currency in their purses and wallets.

The human cost was quickly evident from the stories of employees sent on unpaid leave as companies also struggled to cope and comprehend the impact. Andrei, a computer company employee explained how he queued for a week in Minsk trying to buy dollars but didn’t even get one. “In just one month, I have been made bankrupt, the entire country is bankrupt” he said, adding that “even during the Soviet collapse we never suffered such a nightmare”.

There are many more stories of hardship, families without food or the means to buy any, shops without stock for them to buy even if they had the means.

Dmitry who is a 48 year old factory worker explained how he closed his bank account to get out 5 Million roubles in cash so he “could buy something before my money turns to dust”.

Tensions are growing as many people blame the President for mismanaging the economy.
Staple food supplies are now hoarded but people feel anxious that unrest is starting that could spill over into conflict at any time.
Revolution is always more likely when the population are starving.

Which country is next?

This may all seem so far away from wherever you are reading this but the causes of currency collapse may be closer to your doorstep than you think.

How many countries are in deep debt and reliant on support loans and bailouts right now?
Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Japan, USA, Belarus and virtually all of Eastern Europe and the Euro zone (only they never put it in the headlines!)

What happens when the support cannot be maintained?
Currency Collapse.

It could be the US Dollar, the Euro, the Yen who knows?
But even if it isn’t your currency that collapses what will be the knock on effects in every developed country if one of these currencies collapses?
The same as in Belarus.

Globalisation has been the buzz word for expanding Capitalism but it also means that economies are now inextricably linked and inter-twined to such an extent that when one sneezes they all catch a cold!

Remember the level of Sovereign Debt is spiralling out of control in the US, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and others are close behind such as Spain and the UK. Austerity measures in all countries are hurting normal folk badly – they are losing their jobs, suffering pay freezes, inflation and pension erosion. Social unrest and industrial action looms large across Europe and this will itself impact the recovery and debt repayment. This has already started in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and large scale protests in the UK are gathering momentum with the Autumn likely to be the boiling point of anger.

The discontent and despair of regular folk is understandable as they are bearing the brunt of all the hardship and it just isn’t fair.
Politicians spout their practiced rhetoric about how to fix things but the reality is they just don’t care that much as they are not the ones affected. They have means to isolate them from the hardships and many of them are actually responsible for producing the mess. How can they care about regular people or preach what we need to give up when they don’t – ever met a poor politician? Enough said!

There is now even talk of a “sub-prime” type problem in China because of over-indulgence in property speculation, leaving huge swathes of developments empty or under-occupied and therefore leaking money and ready to default.

We need more than lip service!

Mainstream news outlets are all controlled by self-interest groups (private and Governments) and they never provide the whole story about global economic frailty as there would be worldwide panic if they told the truth. The situation right now is on a knife edge and the next Belarus is not far away. Politicians won’t admit it but then again they won’t suffer like the rest of us as they’re all rich enough and well connected to see out any storm. They care too much for their own popularity to be honest.
Posh boys and rich kids rule the world and their assets are well protected in advance.

Remember what happened when panic struck in Belarus, people bought any tangible asset they could because it would maintain value better than their currency.
This phenomenon is happening daily – your bank account is the best place to keep currency if you want it to devalue!

Currency is not a means of preserving wealth because it has no inherent value especially when confidence is lost – then it is just a piece of paper.

The only real money available is a tangible asset that maintains its value whatever happens to printed bits of paper currency – and that is gold!

A lesson on Money and currency

We need to understand the difference between money and currency as one is real and the other a promise. Money can be defined as a medium of exchange and a store of value and until fairly recent times was in fact coins made out of precious metal with an intrinsic value or for ease of use, notes backed by precious metal.
Money, when considered as the fruit of many years’ industry, as the reward of labor, sweat and toil, as the widow’s dowry and children’s portion, and as the means of procuring the necessaries and alleviating the afflictions of life, and making old age a scene of rest, has something in it sacred that is not to be sported with, or trusted to the airy bubble of paper currency. Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809)
Currency is still a medium of exchange but is not a store of value as it only derives its value by government degree or “fiat”. It’s value is based on the issuing the authority’s guarantee to pay the stated (face) amount on demand, and not on any intrinsic worth or extrinsic backing. All national currencies in circulation, issued and managed by the respective central banks, are fiat currencies.

A days wages in Germany 1923

The problem is that fiat currency runs the risk of central bankers printing too much and causing large inflation or worse. The more that is printed the more the currency is debased just as the Fed is doing now with the dollar. This has been going on for decades with central banks indiscriminately creating money to cover expenditure and ever increasing debt. There are examples throughout history and in the 20th Century most of us are aware that in Germany in 1923 it would take a barrow load of Deutschmarks to buy a loaf of bread but an ounce of gold could buy a reasonable house and one dollar was worth 4 trillion marks.

This irresponsible printing of money has eaten away at the value of the world’s reserve currency the USD dollar and dollar based assets, to such an extent that they have lost 82% of value since 1971, the year the US cut links with the gold standard. The GBP has fared even worse that the USD losing around 85% of value since 1971. There are many illustrations of then and now and how owning gold with intrinsic value would have more purchasing pro rata than currency. E.g the latest model Cadillac Eldorado would have taken 180 ounces of gold at $42.02 to pay the showroom price of $7,546. This same 180 ounces is now worth over $200k and would buy two Cadillac convertibles with enough left over to fuel to first service. In the UK an average family car cost £1000 around 60 oz of gold and now the same would cost £17000 around 23 oz of gold. The 60 ounces would have bought the same family car for you a sports car for your wife and a hatchback for your son or daughter. Gold retains its purchasing power year after year.

Not long ago the gold standard imposed monetary discipline on countries as they had to hold enough gold to cover the money in circulation but this all changed with the Jamaica agreement in 1971 when the decision was taken by President Nixon on the 15th August 1971 to suspend the direct convertibility of dollars into gold, the keystone of the financial system created in July 1944 (the Bretton Woods Agreement). On the 1st October 1971 the general assembly of the IMF asked the board of trustees to study and propose a comprehensive reform. This would be adopted by member States during a meeting held in Kingston (Jamaica) on the 7th and 8th January 1976, and included a set of provisions which put an end to the reign of gold. The US money supply in 1971 was $776 billion and quickly became an upward curve which rose dramatically over the last decade where the US money supply doubled from below $7 trillion to $14.3 trillion indicating that spending is out of control.

The US National debt is now greater than this!

The US though still likes to play the rich kid on the block and bizarrely gives aid to those supporting its debt as a report in the Daily Mail of London illustrates:
The U.S. is providing hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid to some of the world’s richest countries – while at the same time borrowing billions back, according to report seen by Congress.

The Congressional Research Service released the report last month which shows that in 2010 the U.S. handed out a total of $1.4bn to 16 foreign countries that held at least $10bn in Treasury securities.

Four countries in the world’s top 10 richest received foreign aid last year with China receiving $27.2m, India $126.6m, Brazil $25m, and Russia $71.5m. Mexico also received $316.7m and Egypt $255.7m.

And yet despite the massive outgoings in foreign aid, the receiving countries hold trillions of dollars in U.S. Treasury bonds.

China is the largest holder with $1.1trillion as of March, according to the Treasury Department.

Brazil held $193.5bn, Russia $127.8bn, India $39.8bn, Mexico $28.1bn and Egypt had $15.3bn.
Maybe it’s just additional interest on the debt to keep them sweet!

Greece figures predominantly in the spotlight and unrest is growing – will the Government have to mortgage the Acropolis and Parthenon or even sell them off to pay their debts?
Clearly they can never work their way out of this debt because they would have to increase GDP by 12% a year for 30 years in order to grow their way out of debt.
The Sovereign Debt crisis is well and truly out of control and the only solution will be to default on the debts and devalue currencies.

As discussed in the example of Belarus, chaos ensues when currencies collapse and regular folk suffer badly as they don’t see it coming or refuse to believe it could happen to them.

Be warned: A currency collapse is coming near you.
Be prepared: don’t put faith in bits of paper which have no inherent value.
Protect yourself: Invest in tangible assets that hold real value at all times, especially during a crisis.
Remember: Real money has inherent value, it is worth something because of what it is not because of what is written on it.
Now you know why people buy gold to protect themselves from crisis – it always holds value and is the only real money.

In summary:
Currency is not money and its value can be changed by monetary policy makers
Currency can be created and printed at will with no substance to support it
• Currency depreciation in value is accelerating with subsequent loss of purchasing power
• National debt is increasing to disastrous levels with threat of sovereign debt default
• Confidence in the USD is waning and its use as a reserve currency is under threat
Countries and investors are shedding their dollar assets
Central Banks are diversifying into gold and out of dollar assets
Smart investors are diversifying their portfolios with a proportion of gold
• The value of gold has been consistent in retaining its purchasing power
Gold is insurance for your wealth
• Gold is the only real money

I rest my case!

Gold coins for investment – the importance of coin condition

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011
Electronic scales help identify used and worn coins. The photo demonstrates a French 20Franc Napoleon Marianne Coq which is perfect according to its weight.

Electronic scales help identify used and worn coins. The photo demonstrates a French 20Franc Napoleon Marianne Coq which is perfect according to its weight.

When it comes to gold for investment too many buyers pay little attention to the quality of coins at the time of purchase and all too often they realise the importance of this to their investment when it is too late, at the time of resale. In effect, at the moment you wish to sell your gold investment coins they briefly revert back to a numismatic object that will be evaluated and priced as such.

In other words “it’s a gold coin, a twenty franc Napoleon which I should be able to sell with a 20% premium during a period of crisis” quickly loses meaning if you haven’t taken the time before you bought it to verify the quality.

You see when trying to sell on gold coins to professional dealers they will be intractable about the coin quality. In fact they will know so much more than you that every little imperfection they can describe downgrades the value of your coin to them. They will use this to negotiate the price down by reducing or eliminating the premium you were expecting. Additionally they may only offer to buy your coin by its weight and relative gold content weight, minus their commission and a little extra because you have devalued the coin by “handling” it. Finally you will arrive at a price considerably less than you were expecting and certainly less than you’d worked out using the spot gold price or professional quotes for coins.

You may act surprised but then why would you be knowing that any investment in physical assets of such value requires or even demands that you do your homework on what you are buying and how it is assessed or valued. You would certainly need to consider the eventuality of resale and how that should be best done for the best price and at the profit for you – wouldn’t you?

Well gold is no different and you should familiarise yourself with the important factors to consider when procuring gold coins.

Obviously there are some coins that are so rare they demand an ever increasing price but this is solely based on its numismatic (collectible) value. That is to say an extremely rare coin is not as sensitive to a period of crisis or the ups and downs of the gold price but moreso its value is determined and measured by the availability (or lack of it) of other coins like it. An example we can use is the French 100 Franc Bazor which is highly sought after but very rare. Its price is very high (given its gold content alone) because there are very few left in the world. The price will rise in time for its “collectible” value but it is unlikely to double within 3 weeks which a 20 Franc Napoleon of good quality can because of its premium. Rare coins are also being looked at slightly differently in terms of taxation and whereas investment gold coins are exempt from VAT (Value Added Tax) throughout Europe, these rare coins are no longer automatically exempt.

What is the minimum quality of condition for coins still considered to have a premium?

Generally speaking a quality of “very fine (VF)” upwards, “extremely fine (EF)” and “mint state (MS)”  are considered as coin conditions that still enjoy the benefit of a premium. These are the types of coins you should consider for gold investment. Apart from some rarities, the qualities of condition “fine (F) and “very good (VG)” will be bought and sold for their gold content weight and often finish up in the smelting pot for recycling.

Coins declared as “uncirculated (UNC)” are basically new coins that have never been in circulation or were never meant to be circulated. These will have an elevated basic premium due to them being issued direct from the Mint or in some cases may be very rare. In both cases the elevated premium makes them less attractive as an investment because their premium differential is weak. The premium differential is the % difference between the premium associated with the coin during normal economic conditions and the premium it may rise to during a period of crisis. A high starting premium as with UNC coins means there is less room for growth. Many of these UNC coins will be of interest to pure numismatists ie. Collectible.

A Good Magnifying glass really helps to identify the features and any faults

Things to avoid

Even once you have seen the table below you may not feel sure of what to look out for or feel capable to accurately judge a coins condition. It is exactly for this reason that we advise you to avoid buying coins from small ads, individuals or maybe through bid sites like eBay. It is hard enough to know which coins are in which condition but the photos you see are not necessarily going to help and who knows what a seller really knows about their product if you know even less! The trick is to buy from professional sources where you will find fully certificated, verified and referenced coins that are what they say they are. Coins which are professionally inspected and sealed in their packaging maintain their quality so they will still be as valuable when you come to selling them. If you were to keep your coins in a box , unpackaged, taking them out occasionally to admire them you are effectively damaging your own investment by downgrading their quality through handling. Of course that is the difference with gold coin investment and gold coin collecting. An investment produces maximum yield when its integrity is protected and the physical asset is in no way altered to undermine its value.

Please also note that it is the most worn side that determines the condition quality so be sure to look at both sides of any coin.

Be aware of over-shiny coins: these will have been cleaned using polish, chemicals or abrasion to buff up the look and hide imperfections. It is recommended to use a magnifying instrument to inspect any coin as the naked eye cannot always detect the craftsmanship of the precision engraving. These are a great indicator of condition as wear & tear erodes precious detail of the design. Naturally one should always check for the obvious dents and scratches caused by rough handling or shocks. Do not be swayed – these will affect the value of your coin because they affect its condition quality.

It’s also worth noting that some damage inflicted like scratches and dents may have removed gold from your coin. A simple test for this is to weigh your coin accurately on an electronic balance. A French 20 Franc Napoleon should weigh between 6.44 and 6.46g to be considered as valuable. Anything from 6.43g down should be left alone.

You will find some useful information in our glossary as well as some photos that may help you choose wisely.

Similarly we would suggest you browse through the Gold Coin buying guide from our friends at LinGold.com who have kindly let us provide this for you.

Below is a summary of the basic qualities associated with the gradings of  coin condition and some useful translations for those looking internationally.

Gold Coin Gradings

Brilliant Uncirculated (UNC) or “Fleur de Coin”(FDC) – A perfect coin ( no traces of use, handling, shocks, scratches) which has 100% of its design remaining and still has a full mint sheen. These coins as the name indicates have never been in circulation and are exactly as the moment they were struck. They are indeed rare because even uncirculated coins may have been transported together from the mint to a vault and therefore have tiny abrasions or scratches from the journey. A coin in this condition must be flawless. Their rarity means they are of more interest to Numismatists and their elevated basic premium means they are not considered as a logical investment.

In other countries this is referred to as

  • USA: MS65
  • France: Fleur de Coin (FDC)
  • Germany : Stempelglanz (STG)
  • Italy : Fior di Conio (FDC)
  • Spain: Flor de Cuño (FDC)

Uncirculated (UNC) or Mint state (MS) – as implied these coins have never been in circulation and therefore have no visible traces of use, design erosion or scratching. However , they do not have the full mint sheen all over the coin which is usually due to transportation.  Some countries still consider these coins as FDC.

In other countries this is referred to as

  • USA: MS63
  • France: Splendide (SPL)
  • Germany: Fast Stempelglanz
  • Italy –
  • Spain – SC

Extremely Fine (EF) – This is a condition of a coin that is almost perfect but which has had a little circulation and therefore will possess some small faults although often difficult to detect with the naked eye. Using a magnifying glass one can see some light scratches and some erosion of certain raised details such as hair, beards, moustaches, feathers that form the design. The mint sheen is missing and there may also be evidence of some little dents from transportation of coins.

In other countries this is referred to as

  • USA: AU 65
  • France: SUPERBE (SUP)
  • Germany: Vorzüglich (VZ)
  • Italy: Splendido (SPL)
  • Spain: Extraordinariamente bien conservada (EBC)

Very Fine (VF) – A coin in this condition shows obvious signs that it has been in circulation but it still has a good appearance. The coin rim can be slightly worn but still apparent and the relief features of the design can appear “tired” but not worn away. The signs of use are visible but the coin srtill has an agreeable appearance. This type of condition is considered as an average “plus” state of conservation which still allows the coin to attract a premium to its value.

In other countries this is referred to asCaptureGoldCoinGuide

  • USA: XF 40
  • France: Très Très Beau (TTB)
  • Germany : Sehr Schön (SS)
  • Italy Bellissimo (BB)
  • Spain : Muy bien conservada (MBC)

Fine (F) – This condition indicates a coin that has been well circulated. Some of the engraving detail has started to flatten (ribbons, hair, inscriptions etc). The metal surface is dull or in some cases much too shiny because of polishing. Deep scratches are clearly visible as well as dents from impacts with some deformation of the engraving being apparent. This condition of coin can still be of interest to a numismatist but it no longer supports a premium and is therefore not recommended for investment which is better served by coins in the conditions above.

In other countries this is referred to as

  • USA: F 15
  • France: Très Beau (TB)
  • Germany : Schön (S)
  • Italy Molto bello (MB)
  • Spain : Bien conservada+ (BC+)

Very Good (VG) – Even though these coins are considered “very good” they are nevertheless traded purely by weight. They are very worn coins which have a mediocre appearance and have been circulated a lot. We can still just about distinguish their designation but some details are completely worn away or missing. The rim detail, engraved relief features are all but indistinguishable and any images are no longer sharp. These coins inevitably find their way to the foundry for melting unless they happen to have numismatic significance. However, in the light of being investment coins they are to be avoided. One doesn’t know how much gold has been eroded, the weights can vary greatly and there is absolutely no premium attached to these coins.

In other countries this is referred to as

  • USA: G6
  • France: Beau (B)
  • Germany : Sehr Gut Erhalten (SGE)
  • Italy Bello (B)
  • Spain : Bien conservada (BC)

This covers the principal gradings of coin conditions applicable to gold although one may also hear certain other terms used for « intermediate » grades such as ;

About Uncirculated (XF/UNC) which falls between Uncirculated and Extra Fine. It does not have an equivalence in every country and is therefore less used.

One may find various numbers attached to certain conditions particularly in France which allows grading within any given condition eg; SUP 55-62 which grades the “Superbe” from 55 to 66. However this should not be a concern for coin investors as the grading is a purely numismatic tool for specialists. The gold investment quality of all “Superbe” is the same as is their premium.

Finally there are even lower conditions such as “Good” and “Poor” but these are frankly of little interest to us because their condition is well below those required for investment and they are only good for the smelting pot!

Remember:

Gold Coins are an investment that you own!

They are not linked to Sovereign Debt like other investments.

You can buy them when you like.

You can sell them when you like.

Gold Coins have a better potential than Bullion because they have a dual leverage – Gold price and Premium.

Gold coins are transportable, great for liquidity and easy to resell.

Related articles include:

Half-Napoleon 10 Francs Gold Coins

The Premium on Gold Coins

Should I Buy 32 Krugerrands or a 1 Kg Gold Bar?

Krugerrand – The original Bullion Coin

Investment Gold Coins

Latest Gold Coin Prices

Paper money or Gold?

Gold Money, a currency of the past…. and the future?

FRANCAIS ESPANOL ITALIANO CHINESE

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Thoughts
"For a mountaineer, the important things are the effort, the posture and the muscles. The rope that holds him serves no purpose when everything works but it gives him a sense of security. In the same way, all gold does is ensure confidence; it's a safe haven."